Linux Format Newsletter -- #16, August 2006

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Linux Format Newsletter -- #16, August 2006

Postby M-Saunders » Fri Sep 22, 2006 2:34 pm





1. Welcome!

2. Preview of LXF 84

3. In the news...

4. This month on the forum

5. Special newsletter feature

6. Coming up next issue

7. Receiving this Newsletter

8. Contact details

1. Welcome!

After much discussion, design and grafting, the redesigned Linux
Format is here! As you may have seen from the website, we've given
LXF a fresh new look and reorganised the content to make it clearer
and easier to read. We'd really love to hear what you think of the
new issue, if you have it -- things you like, things you want more
of, and things you'd like changed. We've put up an online survey
(should only take 10-15 minutes) and if you complete it, you'll have
a chance to win one of ten LXF T-shirts! See here for more info:

Thanks for taking part and helping to make LXF the best mag
possible. Also new to the site this month is a competition in which
you can win one of two passes to EuroOSCON. Just for entering,
you'll receive a 20% discount off registration fees. The competition
deadline is the 1st of September, so visit the following page now!

Meanwhile, in this Newsletter we have a preview of LXF 84, the
latest news, and forum discussion highlights. We also have a feature
on making your own operating system. Enjoy the Newsletter, and drop
me a line if you have any comments or suggestions!

Mike Saunders
Newsletter Editor

2. Preview of LXF 84

Although LXF has a new look, all the old favourites remain -- the
news section, Mailserver, Roundup and HotPicks. Plus you'll find the
regular selection of reviews, features and tutorials, and in LXF 84
we've been looking at hardware virtualisation. With AMD and Intel
releasing new chips that include support for virtualisation, even
home desktop users can try out the technology for themselves. In our
cover feature we analyse the growth of virtualisation, show you how
to install Xen, and benchmark AMD and Intel chips in various
scenarios (eg Ogg encoding).

Also this month, Graham Morrison asks the question: just what has
the OSDL ever done for us? There's plenty of talk about standards,
and the OSDL has some high-profile Linux hackers under its wing, but
our article sifts through the nitty-gritty details to find out
what's really going on. Meanwhile, we show you how to improve
security and performance of your hard drives via RAID, and take a
look at the snazzy ReelBox media centre.

On the reviews front, Google Earth, AC3D 6 and Opera 9 come under
the spotlight, while our tutorials section covers
Base, Inkscape web page design, Greasemonkey and 3D game coding. The
HotPicks section has been enhanced to include more hands-on content
such as walkthroughs and annotated screenshots -- one of the
highlights this month is Transmission, a BitTorrent client with a
refreshingly clean interface:

# Transmission 0.6.1 --

We're glad to see that BitTorrent hasn't just been a fad, and many
people are making heavy use of it to share the load when
distributing Linux ISOs. Sure, it sees plenty of activity in the
software pirate and music copying scenes, but as a way to
transfer files without placing a heavy burden on a central server
it's ideal. Linux is doing well on the BitTorrent client front,
but most of the major apps are ubercomplex and resource demanding
(see Azureus). Transmission is designed to be easily operated and
do its job without overwhelming us with features.

Transmission is built with the usual configure routine (see
Glipper), and is supplied with both a command-line front-end and a
GTK interface - to enable the latter you'll need the GTK
development packages installed before building. Otherwise there
are no major dependencies, so thumbs-up there. If you find
Transmission to be the ideal BitTorrent downloader and want to
share it with friends, you'll be glad to see there's a Mac OS
build (and even BeOS if you've got particularly cool chums!)

When you've built the app, you can run transmission-gtk to start
up the graphical front end. We applaud the developers for making
the app an absolute doddle to use: click the add ('+') toolbar
button to locate a previously downloaded .torrent file, and
Transmission will do the rest. This adds an entry to the progress
panel which displays the current bandwidth statistics along with
an estimated finish time. At any point, with a right-click you can
bring up stats for .torrent downloads such as the number of
seeders (people offering uploads of the file) and how many people
are grabbing it.

The client includes a simple options box which lets you set an
upload bandwidth limit - essential if you want to do other
internet-related tasks whilst grabbing .torrents - along with the
listening port and default filesystem location for downloads.
There's nothing in the way of online help at present, but if
you've ever grabbed a .torrent in another app you'll be
immediately familiar with how the process works. For simply
downloading a file without the endless graphs, in-depth stats
and other tweakables that other apps often bombard you with, we
think you'll like Transmission.

There are five-and-a-half more pages of new open source goodies in
HotPicks, including a look at the excellent KoverArtist CD and DVD
case designer.

3. In the news...

Freespire is here, with Mandriva 2007 and KDE 4 approaching...

# First impressions of Freespire 1.0 ... le&sid=385

Freespire 1.0, the community edition of the Linspire distro, was
released to the world a few days ago. Sporting out-the-box support
for various codecs and features not normally included in
free-to-download Linux distros, it could have a big impact in the
Linux world. But how does it stack up? Click the above URL for LXF's
early impressions of Freespire 1.0.

# Mandriva 2007 Beta 2 now available ... le&sid=387

The second beta release of Mandriva 2007 has been released, with
kernel 2.6.17, KDE 3.5.4 and GNOME 2.16 beta 2. There's also a new
VPN configuration tool (drakvpn) and a new theme for Gnome. See ... 71098.html
for more information.

# First KDE 4 development snapshot ... le&sid=389

KDE 4 has been in the works for some time now, but finally the
developers' hard graft is starting to yield results -- in the form
of a KDE 4 snapshot ( Currently in
source form for developers and testers, it's not the full KDE suite
but includes kdelibs, kdebase and kdepimlibs ported to Qt 4, with
DBus, Phonon and CMake rolled in. No release date has been set for
KDE 4.0 yet, but there's some planning information here: ... -plan.html

4. This month on the forum

Are virtual machines of any real practical use? That's the question
Marrea asked the forum, explaining that she'd had all sorts of woes
trying to get distros fully functioning in VMware and Parallels.
super_tux pointed to Xen as a good solution for servers, as you can
upgrade your virtual box with a few clicks. nordle noted that
virtual machines help to deal with security issues -- if you have a
break-in, you can just throw an backed-up disk image back on. [1]

On a lighter note, the forum regulars decided it was time to
determine their favourite beer. donoreo kicked off the discussion
with a thumbs-up to Guiness and Kilkenny, before nordle chipped in
saying he liked a good pint of tea. Er, tea? Well, that's
Traditional English Ale, in fact. TheDoctor pointed to an excellent
New Scientist story that claimed drinking beer is good for the
planet (
I'll drink to that! [2]

[1] ... pic&t=3928

[2] ... pic&t=3896

5. Special newsletter feature


Those who've been following the LXF Team Blog will have seen the
embryonic stages of MikeOS -- a small 16-bit operating system
written entirely in x86 assembler. I've been asked many different
questions about how I got started, so in this short article I'll
explain the basics and point to various useful resources. If you
want to dabble in OS development, or you're just interested in how
an OS pieces together in the early stages, read on!

1. Set your limits

Before you even write any code, it's best to get a firm idea of what
you want to do. Thinking of 3D GUIs and office suites at this stage
is fatal; it'll just make the job seem impossible when you get
cracking. Start by thinking of a simple design for your OS, what the
most essential features are, and how you'll tackle them. For
instance, with MikeOS I set my sights on a small 16-bit operating
system with a text-based interface, using the BIOS to provide most
of the hardware support.

2. Get the tools

Whatever your plan, you'll at least need an assembler for the
fundamental parts of your OS. Because you're writing everything from
the ground-up, you can't rely on any helpful libraries or high-level
languages -- initially, you'll have to write x86 assembler code.
Now, x86 isn't a particularly nice instruction set, having various
archaic oddities and very few general-purpose registers, but it's
still usable. See the resources section below for a guide to
learning x86 assembler.

The NASM assembler is a great choice on Linux for writing your code.
Initially you'll want to write your OS to a floppy disk (hard drive
support can come later), so with loopback mounting and QEMU you can
use virtual floppy disks with a PC emulator to speed up development.

3. Start coding!

The first thing to do is write a small boot loader. This has to fit
in 512 bytes, and will load your kernel from the disk. To ease the
process, it's best to initially use something like the FAT12
filesystem -- it's very well documented and easy to understand. Once
you've done that, you can start working on your kernel. At the start
you'll want to write some system calls, to avoid code duplication
and make it easier to write the bigger parts. For instance, writing
a few string printing and input routines makes it easier to add
debugging information.

4. And from there...

If you get this far, good work! Writing an OS, even a small and
simple OS, is very demanding. But it's also hugely rewarding, as
you're creating your own world from scratch, not relying one anyone
else's code. I just hope you come up with a more original name than
'MikeOS'. Good luck!

5. Resources

# -- Excellent set of tutorials
and help information to get you started

# -- List of BIOS calls, for hardware
interfacing from your OS

# -- Great online
book for learning x86 assembler language

# -- NASM assembler (available in
the package repositories of most distros)

# -- MikeOS web site

-- Mike Saunders

6. Coming up next issue

Linux Format 85, on sale Thursday 21st September

# Novell vs Red Hat -- SUSE Linux Enterprise 10 is here: find
out how Novell is taking Linux to big business and challenging
Red Hat in the enterprise

# Gael Duval Returns -- Just what is his Ulteo project?

# The problem with desktop Linux -- what's REALLY keeping it
from everyone's desktop?

(Exact contents of future issues are subject to change.)

7. Receiving this Newsletter

If you've been forwarded this Newsletter from someone else, and want
to sign up for future issues, just follow the steps below. Each
month you'll receive a sparkling new LXF Newsletter straight in your
Inbox, and the 30-second sign-up process is even easier than
preparing a Pot Noodle...

1. Go to the website forums and log in (or sign up first):

2. At the top of the main forum page, click on 'Usergroups'

3. Join the 'Newsletter' group, and you're done!

If for some reason you no longer wish to receive this newsletter
(which'll make the internet depressed) you can opt-out by removing
yourself from the Newsletter group as above.

8. Contact details

Any questions or suggestions, please send them to the Newsletter
Editor at the address below:

Newsletter Editor: Mike Saunders --

Letters for the magazine:

LXF website:

Subscriptions: 0870 837 4722 (overseas +44 1858 438794)
Website subs page:

(C) 2006 Future
LXF regular
Posts: 2893
Joined: Mon Apr 11, 2005 12:14 pm

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